Agape Agape

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

This short novel consists of the musings of a man whose situation parallels in several ways that of the author at the time of its composition. Aware that he does not have long to live and that his precarious health makes the work he is still determined to do very difficult, the speaker struggles to put both the results of his literary-historical research and his estate in order.

“Agape” signifies the celebration of the love that the early Church recognized as the creative life force. The man strives for authenticity and quality in a world that prefers fakery and mere quantity, but the lack of any recognizable order at every level, the victory of age over youth, all threaten to overwhelm him. The mechanized world that he sees as having begun to dominate life in the nineteenth century opposes artistry—in fact supplants it with democratized, technological substitutes. His symbol for this process is the player piano, invented in 1876, which presumably allowed anyone to make music, albeit with the feet rather than the hands.

As a condemnation of the modern world, Agape Agape reiterates familiar complaints of modern artists to an almost exasperating degree and exudes an overly facile contempt for the “herd” who cannot appreciate true art. This novel succeeds best as a portrayal of the frustrations of a sick and aging man. He cannot organize his notes, he tears his skin—rendered parchment-like by the drugs he must take—on a drawer corner, he spills a glass of water over the documents he is trying to sort out. His continual efforts to “avoid stress” merely add to the stress. The poignancy of the speaker’s plight will be strongly felt by readers of this novel—particularly older ones.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bloom, Harold, ed. William Gaddis: Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2003.

Comnes, Gregory. The Ethics of Indeterminacy in the Novels of William Gaddis. Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 1994.

Johnston, John. Carnival of Repetition: Gaddis’s “The Recognitions” and Postmodern Theory. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.

Knight, Christopher J. Hints and Guesses: William Gaddis’s Fiction of Longing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1997.

Kuehl, John, and Steven Moore, eds. In Recognition of William Gaddis. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1984.

Moore, Steven. A Reader’s Guide to William Gaddis’s “The Recognitions.” Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

Moore, Steven. William Gaddis. Boston: Twayne, 1989.

Wolfe, Peter. A Vision of His Own: The Mind and Art of William Gaddis. Madison, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1997.